The greatest Muslim poet was born in what is now Afghanistan, back when Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists lived peacefully together.
His funeral lasted 40 days, and he was mourned by Christians, Jews, Muslims, Persians and Greeks.
Okay, Rumi was born in 1207 and died in 1273. That turns out to have been a turbulent era — but there’s not a word about discord in his poems. And there’s no record of any criticism coming his way because he was a Sufi and a scholar of the Koran.
Indeed, at his funeral, Christians proclaimed, “He was our Jesus!” while Jews cried, “He was our Moses!”
Both were right. Rumi belongs to everyone. And always will. It makes perfect sense that this 13th century Muslim is now said to be the best-selling poet in 21st century America.
The ultimate reason, of course, is the poetry itself. But first, let’s set the poetry in the life…..
His father was rich, a Sufi mystic and theologian. There’s a famous story of Rumi, at 12, traveling with his father. A great poet saw the father walking ahead and Rumi hurrying to keep up. “Here comes a sea followed by an ocean,” he said.
Rumi studied, became a noted scholar. Then, when he was 37, he met Shams of Tabriz, a thorny personality. But Shams was God-intoxicated; nothing else mattered. And so their meeting was catalytic. As Rumi said: “What I had thought of before as God I met today in a human being.”
He dropped everything to be with Shams. Then Shams disappeared. Later, he resurfaced — only to be murdered, probably by Rumi’s jealous son. But by then Rumi was also God-obsessed, and he understood: Between lovers, there can be no separation:
Why should I seek?
I am the same as he.
His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself.
Rumi produced 70,000 verses — but he never actually wrote a poem. Pressed by a friend to record his thoughts, he pulled out some lines he’d scribbled. “More!” begged Husameddin Celebi. Rumi’s response: “Celebi, if you consent to write for me, I will recite.” And Rumi began to dictate.
It was quite the process, with Rumi sometimes calling out poems as he danced. As Celebi would write: “He never took a pen in his hand while composing. Wherever he happened to be, whether in the school, at the hot springs, in the baths or in the vineyards, I would write down what he recited. Often I could barely keep up with his pace, sometimes, night and day for several days. At other times he would not compose for months, and once for two years there was nothing. At the completion of each book I would read it back to him, so that he could correct what had been written.”
As a poet, Rumi was as clear as he was deep. His story-poems are riddles you can solve. His poems are little telegrams, straight from his heart to yours. Whatever it cost him to write is hidden. His point is: Here is honey. Taste. Eat. [To buy “The Essential Rumi” from Amazon.com, click here.]
And is there ever nourishment in his work! Consider:
No matter how fast you run,
your shadow more than keeps up.
Sometimes it’s in front.
Only full, overhead sun diminishes your shadow.
But that shadow has been serving you!
What hurts you, blesses you.
Darkness is your candle.
Your boundaries are your quest.
Don’t mistake straightforward speech for simplicity; Rumi is as brain-busting as Zen. For example:
Why do you stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?
Which reminds me of a story Rumi tells: A friend sends a prayer rug to a man in prison. What the man wanted, however, was a key or file — he wanted to break out. Still, he began to sit on the rug and pray. Eventually he noticed an odd pattern in the rug. He meditated on it — and realized it was a diagram of the lock that held him in his cell. Escape came easily after that…..
Escape comes more easily after you read these poems. You may well find yourself, like Rumi, saying:
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that.
And I intend to end up there.
Biography of Edgar Allan Poe
Poe was born in Massachusetts, the son of travelling actors David and Elizabeth Arnold Poe. His mother died when he was two and his father was an alcoholic, so Poe went to live with a prosperous Scottish tobacco merchant, John Allan, in Richmond. Allan always refused to adopt Poe which led to bad feeling between the two of them.
Poe was educated at Stoke Newington in London from 1815-20. Despite considerable academic success his gambling debts forced him to leave the University of Virginia, where he had gone to study, after one year. By 1827 Poe, with typical restlessness, had moved from Boston to Richmond and then back to Boston again. He gained a good reputation in the army which he joined in 1827, but spent a miserable year at the US Military Academy at West Point in 1830, before being dishonourably discharged.
Poe stayed in Baltimore from 1831-35 and began writing more seriously. In 1836 he married his 13 year old cousin, Virginia. He had been working as a journalist since 1831, earning a bare minimum to survive, and from 1835-37 edited the Southern Literary Messenger.
His short stories reveal a fascination with emotional extremes, particularly fear, though his essays show that he was capable of being objective and critical.
In 1844 Poe moved to New York, but despite popular acclaim his life was still wretched. Virginia died of tuberculosis in 1847 and Poe, still poor and an alcoholic, died in Baltimore two years later.Oh! that my young life were a lasting dream!
My spirit not awakening, till the beam
Of an Eternity should bring the morrow.
Yes! tho’ that long dream were of hopeless sorrow,
‘Twere better than the cold reality
Of waking life, to him whose heart must be,
And hath been still, upon the lovely earth,
A chaos of deep passion, from his birth.
But should it be- that dream eternally
Continuing- as dreams have been to me
In my young boyhood- should it thus be given,
‘Twere folly still to hope for higher Heaven.
For I have revell’d, when the sun was bright
I’ the summer sky, in dreams of living light
And loveliness,- have left my very heart
In climes of my imagining, apart
From mine own home, with beings that have been
Of mine own thought- what more could I have seen?
‘Twas once- and only once- and the wild hour
From my remembrance shall not pass- some power
Or spell had bound me- ’twas the chilly wind
Came o’er me in the night, and left behind
Its image on my spirit- or the moon
Shone on my slumbers in her lofty noon
Too coldly- or the stars- howe’er it was
That dream was as that night-wind- let it pass.
I have been happy, tho’ in a dream.
I have been happy- and I love the theme:
Dreams! in their vivid coloring of life,
As in that fleeting, shadowy, misty strife
Of semblance with reality, which brings
To the delirious eye, more lovely things
Of Paradise and Love- and all our own!
Than young Hope in his sunniest hour hath known.